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'Realistic' Advocacy Is 2017 Military Spouse of the Year's Goal

There's something to be said for setting workable goals. 

Brittany Boccher, the 2017 Armed Forces Insurance overall Military Spouse of the Year and Air Force Spouse of the Year, knows that. Which is why instead of changing the whole world, she is laser focused on changing her slice of it. 

Traditionally, the AFI Military Spouse of the Year sets some kind of platform or agenda for their year in the role. Typically based on their personal passions, the goals work as a guiding light. Landing the MSOY title opens up a world of doors, and if you don't pick the ones you want wisely, burnout rapidly becomes a possibility. 

A mom and small business owner, Boccher says her focus is advocacy for military special needs kids, like her son who has Down Syndrome, and their parents. And while she's looking for Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP) changes Defense Department-wide, she's starting with just the Air Force. 

And she already has experience making change at her own home base, Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas. After noticing one day that the playgrounds on base lacked any special needs play options and that the commissary didn't have a cart for special needs patrons, she did something about it -- and fast. Six months after first walking into an office to ask how to make it happen, both issues had been rectified with a special needs swing installed at a playground and a Caroline Cart purchased at the commissary.

"Daily I drive by that special needs swing and I see children on it every day," she told me. "That’s really where my passion lies -- for special needs children to find areas of improvement that need to be addressed really to give them an equal quality of life."

Anyone who has ever tried to make change on multiple bases knows it can be an uphill battle. But Boccher has already seen doors open thanks to this award as well as her position last year as a base-level winner.

"I always had the platform, and I knew what I wanted to do and I knew what I wanted to say, but I had a hard time getting that seat at the table, and getting that person to listen," she said. "Last year it opened the doors and I finally had the person to listen ... I just look forward to seeing how it's going to grow."

Rather than try to get a full inclusive playground on each base -- a very expensive project -- Boccher is starting smaller, with just an inclusive swing installed at one playground on every Air Force base. That project, she said, would only cost $20,000 Air Force-wide, a drop in the overall budget bucket.

"It's really not a big budget to do it, and then the return on investment is that we have 28,000 registered EFMP families in the Air Force."  

Special needs carts are a slightly more expensive problem, costing more than $700 each and instead under the purview of the Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA), which runs the commissaries on all bases worldwide. But the system is just as if not more important than the swing, she said. The carts, which have a seat allowing someone over 200 lbs. to ride, could be utilized by more than just active duty families with small children. They could allow retirees and families with adult disabled members to also come and use the commissary benefit. 

Boccher would ultimately also like to expand the EFMP program to have a designated parent-liaison on every base, someone who knows that individual community's needs in a way outsiders and policy makers in the D.C. bubble cannot and who can communicate just what is needed in that location.

Although not her primary focus, Boccher says she also will continue to push other military spouses to enjoy and embrace military life, something she has worked towards in the past. Military life is full of opportunities -- if you're willing to seize them.

"Twelve years ago I was that spouse that dug my feet in and didn't want to move or go," she said. "Now I try to encourage everyone to really embrace what they’re living."

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