RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany — Giving back to the local community is one of the duties that come along with service to one's country. There are some people, like Nicole Bridge, who don’t wear the uniform, but give back in an equally large way.
Bridge was recently awarded the 2016 Joan Orr Air Force Spouse of the Year award.
Bridge is the spouse of Tech. Sgt. Matthew J. Bridge, a member of the 521st Air Mobility Operations. She has devoted her time without monetary gain; volunteering more than 1,200 hours to the local community.
“There are so many other things you’re receiving if you can get past the money side of it,” Bridge said. “The skills that you learn, the friends that you make, the difference that you make in the community, even if you make a difference in one person’s life — to me that’s worth it.”
A mother to 1- and 3-year-old boys, Bridge is the Ramstein Enlisted Spouses' Association president. She organized 125 events, and generated $250,000 for distribution into the Kaiserslautern Military Community. Additionally, Bridge was elected as treasurer for the nonprofit organization, Americans Working Around the Globe (AWAG) and oversaw the allocation of $175,000.
Bridge also assisted more than 25 new mothers as a national lactation consultant. She became a certified pre- and post-natal personal trainer, teaching more than 50 personnel how to safely exercise.
However, the California-native hadn’t always been an active volunteer.
It started four years ago, during the Bridges’ initial change of station. Pregnant with their first son, Bridge searched for work with flexible hours in their new German community.
“I had worked full time, coaching a dance team and teaching at a dance studio,” Bridge said. “Once we moved overseas, I realized all those things I was doing I wasn’t able to do, or at least not right away.”
Consequently, Bridge decided she had to change perspectives.
“I struggled a lot with (the thought that) ‘I’m not financially providing for my family’,” Bridge said. “I felt stuck and volunteering has alleviated that from me. It’s provided me a sense of well-being.”
After starting out with the Ramstein AB thrift shop, Bridge stepped into the role of president of the RESA in 2014 and 2015 and began facilitating events.
“It is really rewarding to be part of the background work, then step back and see how much it’s impacting everyone,” Bridge said.
The thrift shop, for example, directly impacts the KMC by sending 80 percent of its profits from donated goods right back to base organizations such as booster clubs and award ceremonies.
While working with various institutions, Bridge honed her leadership, financial, business and organizational skills. In order to improve all the volunteer’s processes personally and professionally, Bridge attended an AWAG seminar.
Bridge was later elected as treasurer for the nonprofit organization in 2015 and 2016.
“Our time in AWAG gave us many tools to take back home and implement into our organization,” said Jillian Romag, the former RESA vice president and AWAG member. “Some of the things we learned we were able to pass on to our members and their spouses, such as resume writing, volunteer appreciation and post-duty transitioning.”
Bridge strongly believes her acquired skills will pay off in the future.
For now, she is grateful for all the support she had received.
After she found out that she was the spouse of the year award recipient, Bridge said, “It was humbling experience. It made me sit down and think about who it took to even get to this level.”
Bridge’s family, friends, co-workers’ and mentors’ support helped her balance her role as a wife and mother, alongside being an active volunteer.
Her husband said her motivation can be attributed to all the great people she worked with from various organizations.
“I am completely in awe of her and unbelievably proud of her,” Matthew said. “Moving to a new location can be a tough transition. Nicole ventured out to make friends and give back to the community, but ended up with something far greater, which is a strong support system and friends who feel like family. I know she did not do this for recognition, but did it to make our community and Air Force better.”