Tuesday, March 13, 2012

2011 Coast Guard Spouse of the Year

For those you who haven't had the enormous pleasure of meeting Mrs. Laura Vanderwerf, you are missing out. Last May, she was rightfully named Military Spouse Magazine's 2011 Coast Guard Spouse of the Year.

What brought her to land this coveted role? Well, I am glad you asked.

She and her husband have been married over two decades. They are a beautiful couple with beautiful children who have grown into terrific young adults. Since the 1990's, Laura has served in an Ombudsman capacity for the United States Coast Guard. This has been more than a volunteer position, but really an excellent opportunity for her to mentor up and coming Ombudsmen as well. She has take the position seriously and looked for ways to improve things over the years. For those of you who are not sure what an Ombudsman does: they are the link between the families and their respective units.

She even assisted folks on a national level, far outside of her local purview in a variety of situations. It is apparent that Laura views a Coast Guard spouse in need as a Coast Guard spouse she can help,regardless of where they are located. Her passion is a large part of what her makes her so appealing. The other big parts are that she is down-to-earth, frank and realistic. If she does not agree with something, she won't couch her words to coddle you, but she is kind in her sharing of opinion. If she hears an idea, she offers realistic advice on how one can realize the goal. If you want to talk, she talks to you as a fellow spouse, not as a subordinate or superior; not as a stranger; not condescendingly; and not without warmth in her voice. She is approachable, relatable, and willing to impart her wisdom with grace and an "I've been there" kind of way.

I know this because I have been communicating with Laura for a number of years as a part of various online support forums we used to frequent and to one of which we both still belong. Finally, last year, I met her. I would be lying if I said I wasn't nervous. After all, this was THE LAURA VANDERWERF. The lady who seemingly always knew the answers to everyone's questions, and if she didn't she found someone for you who did. In ten years of virtually knowing Laura, nothing could have prepared me for how great meeting her in real life was.

There was no pomp and circumstance heralding her or magical glow about her. She was an ordinary person. *gasp*

I immediately came to call her friend. This woman who had been in part my mentor and question-answerer over the years was pretty darn awesome and normal. Well, normal might not be the right word. ;) We all have crazy quirks. Don't even get me started on mine.

Chatting with Laura, I felt right at home. She presented me with this sense of how we are all the same--riding in the same boat (pun intended, of course). And, we are. Regardless of rank, socioeconomic status, or even whether or not we have children, Coast Guard spouses are often dealing with the same things day in and day out. Laura recognizes that and as such treats everyone as her equal. That, in and of itself, (quite ironcially) raises her on a pedestal in my book.
In July 2011, I had the pleasure of seeing Laura again at the CPOA graduation in Petaluma. She was gorgeous as always. I was even fortunate enough to meet her equally fantastic husband. Then, this past fall, she came to Astoria and made time to sit down with me for a lunch before she and her family headed east for their PCS.
I asked Laura, what can I do. How can I help you to serve spouses? Without Laura as a strong presence on the West Coast, I didn't know how the culture would change. You see she has been a strong force in Alaska, Oregon and California over the years, and now the lucky, lucky East Coast would have her. I was sad to see her go, but excited for her adventure as she and her husband round out there time in the USCG.

Laura said to me, Keep doing what you are doing. She urged me to remain a voice for Coast Guard spouses and families and to keep my presence known. With Laura being one of my biggest supporters, that hasn't been hard. I think almost the entire Coast Guard community knows who I am now. With that comes a large responsibility. Laura's legacy to the Coast Guard community is immeasurable. If I can help half as many people as she has, then I consider myself blessed. I am grateful for the tireless efforts and unnending dedication Laura has. I am thankful to have her as a mentor, friend and a supporter as I can follow in her footsteps.

Laura, you are truly a classy lady who has given so much to so many;

prompted positive change; and provided outstanding opportunities.
Thank you for all you have done and will continue to do. See you in May, my friend!

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