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The Gift of Variety in My Civic Leadership Journey 

I sit clutching my bag as I wait for the announcer to call my name. I’m in a gymnasium-turned-banquet hall filled with round, white table-clothed tables.


It’s my graduation day, but not from school.


It’s a graduation from the civic leadership program in which I’ve participated led by the civilians of Pulaski County, the community surrounding Fort Leonard Wood.

For the past nine months, we engaged in monthly leadership days where my class of ten people traveled throughout the area learning about what makes a rural community like this one function.

We toured the local life flight helicopter, sixth grade school, the Fort Leonard Wood range simulator and more. We heard about initiatives from local mayors, economic development plans for the future and the county’s history.

Civic leadership in the form of board or commission service, or running for local office has been a dream of mine long before the military.


I want to contribute to community-wide change at the tables where decisions are made.


In an arena where one can only generate social and political capital through time, trust and community relationships, military life might seem like a hindrance to this kind of objective.

And honestly, in some ways, it is.

It is hard to establish a place within the community at all when you only live there for two or perhaps three years. It is even harder to establish the breadth of experience, local knowledge and networks needed for civic leadership in this amount of time.

Civilian aspiring civic leaders might enjoy the stability of being deeply rooted in a place they care about.


 However, as a military spouse, I experience the gift of variety.


Though I may not live in town long enough to meet board requirements at this point in my life, I do have the opportunity to learn about civic leadership from fantastic communities across the U.S. and perhaps in the future, abroad.

I have volunteered to repaint the history museum, interviewed current board members about their appointment experiences, met mayors and representatives and joined a nonprofit newsroom of people writing to make their community stronger.

At each duty station, I have heard countless inspiring stories of people who invested decades of service into their chosen hometowns. I have seen the unique and varied ways communities do their best to add value to the lives of the people who live there, including those of us who are only there for a short time.

I have been immersed in city traditions, explored local sites and discovered quirky hidden gems.


I was sitting at a long conference table at work when I got the text from my spouse that Fort Leonard Wood would be our first assignment.


My face fell in disappointment. However, after experiencing the hospitality, generosity and professionalism of the civilian civic community there, I recognize our time “lost in the woods” was a true gift.

This community showed me from the beginning what is possible for my own civic leadership journey. It helped me approach each subsequent duty station with an excitement to contribute my skills to better the local area.

The personalized graduation award I received from that Pulaski County banquet is one of my most prized possessions, not because of anything in particular that I did or accomplished.

But I treasure it because it reminds me of the people I met that truly inspired me to think beyond my own household even while living a mobile life.

They continue to inspire me to look a little closer at the places where I live, and find the utterly unique stories, gifts and efforts of so many working hard to make it feel like home.




Meet Finalist Aria Spears, Army Spouse

gift Aria Spears is a professional copywriter and columnist. She is an Army spouse and civic leadership enthusiast.

In her off time, you can find her persuading people to join local civic boards and walking her Jack Russell Terrier.

We are honored to share her work on our platform and we applaud her civic mind and her “Rosie The Riveter” spirit!

*To read more entries, visit Mission:Milspouse’s homepage.


  • M:M Command Team

    With over 159 years of military spouse experience and 68 PCSes under their belts, the M:M Command team is the ultimate Battle Buddy to help navigate Milspouse life. Powered by volunteer spirit and optimism the M:M Command Team could run a small country, but instead are dedicated entirely to the global empowerment of military spouses to help them conquer adversity, foster confidence, and thrive in this military life.


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