Speechless: Reflections on #MilspouseFest2016 San Diego


Providing an in-person event has always been a dream of mine for MilitaryOneClick, but for the past 5 years, we have been so busy building MilitaryOneClick.com, the dream was always pushed out another year.

Well, on April 19, 2016, that dream finally came true….and I was speechless.

Not kidding. I was literally speechless– with no voice at all, not even a whisper.  Nada. I had nothing.

We had finally created an in-person event. I wanted to shout from the rooftops, and I couldn’t even say, “Thank you.”

I had my welcome remarks planned to thank our team who has believed in this dream as much as I have.  I wanted to say thank you to the military spouses who took time out of their lives to give us a chance to bring some sunshine into their day.  I wanted to thank USAA for believing in our dream and providing this experience for our fellow military spouses.

But I couldn’t say a thing.

A #MilspouseFest2016 is coming to a base near you!

Our team thought losing my voice was divine intervention which forced me to let go and watch #MilspouseFest2016 unfold just like unwrapping presents on Christmas morning: peeling back the wrapping paper on each gift.

Or maybe they just said that because they were secretly thrilled I couldn’t talk.  I’m not sure which one it was!

However, when you literally can’t talk, all you can do is listen and watch.

Which is what I did… and here is what I saw in front of me:

A team of 8 spouses flew in from around the country to set up #MilspouseFest2016 presented by USAA and MilitaryOneClick in San Diego, California.  This was also the first time many of the people on our team met each other in person.  We bonded over a yummy lunch and then got to work.  We needed to transform a giant empty room into a magical experience in less than four hours.  However, there are no magical elves that set up and breakdown these events…

We are the magical elves.

And magical we are.

We had 400+ military spouses register for the event and we had over 260 attend.  Spouses from different services, different ages, ranks, genders, ethnicities, hometowns, parental status–you name it, they were there.

In fact, they were early.  The team was dashing around putting the final touches on the tables with beautiful red, white, and blue arrangements provided by FTD Flowers, camouflage MetLife Snoopys, candy bars from Nestle, and lots of other fun swag items from USAA at every single seat as the first guests began to arrive.

Was gifted a beautiful centerpiece because my hubby is deployed. ❤️ #milspousefest2016

A photo posted by Quinn Berentsen (@itsquinntendo) on

There was music playing, the room was cheerful, the coffee was hot, and the breakfast treats were delicious.  Military spouses immediately started lining up to meet Jo from Jo, My Gosh! and JD Collins from Semi-Delicate Balance who were signing their new book, A Modern Military Spouse,  and 100 of them were donated by MilitaryByOwner.

Book number #100 #last one #milspousefest2016 @usaa @militaryoneclick

A photo posted by Melissa Be (@heyumellyb18) on

Sharon Gran, co-founder of MilitaryByOwner was busy as a bee sharing their incredible info with spouses who lined up armed with USAA bags.  Groups and businesses attended to lend their resources: Concordia University, LINKS, and others.

Before we knew it, it was time to begin and we were off and running.  Rachael Hubbard, our Director of Events and Outreach, gave a huge shout-out to San Diego Military Spouses and the room erupted into applause.  After a thank-you to our presenting sponsor, USAA, our amazing emcee, Jacey Eckhart, began the first exercise.

We had different activities planned throughout the day to foster community.  We purposely moved the spouses to different areas of the room based on the year they graduated high school.  We had military spouses attend who graduated all the way from the 1970’s through 2015.  A physical timeline of 260 military spouses surrounded the room. It was incredible to see.

The day looked like milspouse speed dating on steroids  as spouses moved tables again and again based on the commissary they shop at or what service they identify with.  And connections were made.

We had a lively game of Financial Feud where millennial military spouses took on the more “experienced” military spouses to test their knowledge of financial health.  JJ Montanaro, USAA-Certified Financial Planner, and Jacey did their best Steve Harvey impressions and the spouses rocked it.  I loved watching the military spouses at the tables with people they just met share what the answer should be– and then cheer or let out a loud ohhhh when the big X flashed on the board.

As the day wound down, we broke into three groups to talk about career goals.  Noreen O’Neil, Senior Advisor from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Hiring Our Heroes Program, led the employment session outside in the beautiful sunny San Diego weather, while Maggie Hahn, Military Affairs Relationship Director from USAA, led the enterprising section on the covered porch of the venue and Wendy Poling, founder of My Military Life and Leigh Ann Arnold, Office of Veterans Business Development, U.S. Small Business Administration, led the session on entrepreneurship.

This event also felt much like a family reunion for me getting to see friends that I have met over the years in the military community.  I had a chance to reconnect with Marla Barlow, who I met when we started the first Military Mothers of Preschoolers in Annapolis MD.  Also, my friend and fellow entrepreneur, Kristine Shellhaas, founder of USMCLife.com, attended and shared her video trailer for her new memoir, 15 Years of War.

Our goal was to provide a snapshot of choices in military life with our theme, You be You.  Throughout the day, these military spouses were provided an opportunity to be themselves: to laugh, smile, shed a tear, ask for help, meet a friend, learn career opportunities and most of all, just have fun.

YOU BE YOU. #milspousefest2016

A photo posted by Kʌɣʅʌ Nɪƙơʅє (@kadakole) on

Barb Harpuder, Director of Social Media was on fire with our Facebook and Twitter accounts. We streamed live video and shared pictures, tweets, and posts. She was able to bridge the digital age military spouses who were attending the event, with the online military spouses checking in from around the world so that everyone could “join” us at #MilspouseFest2016.

It truly became the total military spouse social experience.

Our reach and engagement were off the chart both in the room and from around the world.  But what mattered the most were the individual comments we received from the spouses at the event and on our social media.

This is why we will keep doing what we do– so you can be you.

See you soon….Love, Jen