(photo: Deborah, Deanna, and Nicole after the taping of Oprah’s Favorite Things)

Anyone who has been through a deployment, or maybe a particularly hard move, knows about that one little thing. That thing that wouldn’t be a problem any other time; the thing that would be totally manageable under normal circumstances. But circumstances often aren’t normal for military families, and it’s that thing, that extra burden, that can send us over the edge.

Military life is tough, sure, we all know that. But the tough things are rarely so bad as to break us on their own. No, it’s the cumulative effect of all the tough things that sends us to the ugly place. The crying-so-hard-we-vomit place. The screaming-obscenities-at-the-kids place. The give-up, give-in, quit-it-all place. If you’ve been there – and I bet you have- then you know exactly which place I’m talking about.

But then, from time to time, we hear about one of our own, a military spouse, who voluntarily adds one more thing to her already-full plate so she can lessen the burden a bit for the rest of us.

These military spouses step up and establish grants and scholarships; they lobby Tricare to change policies for our special needs kids; they start non-profits so that none of us will have to go through cancer alone; they interpret the already-hard-to-understand-acronyms for spouses who are not native English speakers; they find foster homes for the pets of deployed troops; they create the social groups we all enjoy; they establish, improve and perfect the programs we consider essential. These military spouses organize fundraisers, research tax laws, testify before Congress, even tap their own bank accounts dry, all in the name of making life just a little bit easier for the rest of us. In a world of service, they are the super-servers. In a world where everyone sacrifices, they double down and sacrifice again.

(photo: MSOY Finalists and Winners meet up for dinner the night before meeting Oprah)

I had the opportunity to sit in a room filled with 30 such people on the evening of October 10th. The spouses in that room had all been nominated for Military Spouse Magazine’s Military Spouse of the Year (MSOY) award during the past few years. The award was founded by Babette Maxwell in 2008 and is the top award for the nation’s 1.1 million military spouses. It’s an entirely merit-based award that recognizes leadership and initiative among military spouses, meaning that the finalists and winners are people who have continually gone above and beyond to serve the military community and whose efforts have made a significant positive impact on the lives of service members and their families.

Imagine sitting in that room – just a small, plain, hotel conference room. The 30 spouses present weren’t the only 30 people in the military community doing extra, amazing things – but they are, to a person, amazing. They are also humble women (and one man) who don’t seek recognition for themselves but who toil, literally, day and night without compensation so that the rest of us will have one less thing to break us.

I sat in that conference room and looked from face to face at people who represented every branch of service, married to officers and enlisted troops, ranging in age from their early 20s to their late 50s. Though a few were beautiful in obvious ways, most looked pretty average, like people you’d meet in the commissary or at a playgroup. Some were accomplished in the professional world and some were struggling to finish a college degree. No one peeking into that room would have guessed how much that group had accomplished, but the energy level there could have powered a city block.

(photo: MSOY Finalists and Winners on the bus before taping of the show)

Then, as if simply meeting these phenomenal people wasn’t enough (and, honestly, it was enough) the following day we all got the thrill of a lifetime. We were there because The Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) had selected 30 of us, all nominees for Military Spouse of the Year, to meet up in Washington, D.C. We were told that we were going to attend a viewing event for the Network’s new television series, “Married to the Army: Alaska”. However, a few minutes into the viewing the television screens went fuzzy and Oprah herself entered the room. She announced that we weren’t there to watch the show, we were there to receive Oprah’s Favorite Things”. (You can see our astonished reactions for yourself. The two-hour special airs on November 18 at 8 p.m. EST on OWN, followed by “Married to the Army: Alaska”. Nominations for Armed Forces Insurance Military Spouse of the Year (R) 2013 will open immediately following the show. You can nominate spouses you know by clicking here.

We were showered with fabulous presents that day and so honored to have been chosen to attend, but all of us agreed that the greatest gift was simply getting know each other better and being inspired by the work everyone else was doing.

Oprah told us that day that she hoped we would “receive the gifts in the spirit they were given”, which is to say, enjoy her recognition and let it rejuvenate us so that we will continue helping our communities. Already this group of 30 military spouses has discussed starting at least a dozen new projects to help our military communities in exciting and much-needed ways.

(photo: Sarah, Kristy, Printace, Janet and Eli after the taping of Oprah’s Favorite Things)

There are seasons in life, times of joy and pain, times of blessing and times of sacrifice. But the military spouses I came to know during those two days reinforced for me that those seasons can overlap; that a bad season doesn’t have to be all bad and that a trying time isn’t a license to hunker down and stop giving. No, not everyone can start a non-profit, lobby Congress or get military policies changed, but everyone can do one thing – just one little thing – for someone else. And that one little thing might make all the difference in the world.

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