National Guard Spouse of the Year Encourages Military Families to Learn from Each Other

Cindy Meili is the 2022 National Guard Spouse of the Year
Cindy Meili, the wife of New York Air National Guard Col. John Meili, the commander of the New York Air National Guard’s 152nd Air Intelligence Squadron, has been named as the 2022 National Guard representative in the Armed Forces Insurance Military Spouse of the Year program. The award recognizes the importance of military spouses’ and their dedicated contributions to the military community. (U.S. Air National Guard/Master Sgt. Barbara Olney)

Most of Cindy Meili's time is devoted to making military families' lives better. That's why her husband, Air Force Col. John Meili, nominated her for Armed Forces Insurance's Spouse of the Year (SOY) program.

After multiple rounds of voting, Meili was announced as the 2022 National Guard Spouse of the Year. Now at the halfway point of her tenure, Meili is taking advantage of her platform to do even more.

Her efforts start at home. She and John have been married 29 years, through which he's gone from enlisted to officer, active duty to National Guard. Their two sons followed him into the Air Force. She works as the assistant director of the Onondaga County, New York, Veteran Service Agency and as the veteran outreach coordinator for Skaneateles, New York.

In what free time she has, she serves on the Military Family Advisory Network Advisory Board and volunteers with several other military-focused organizations.

The SOY recognition gives Meili a platform to advocate for better understanding of what guardsmen and their families need from their communities.

She said many still think of guardsmen as just weekend warriors, if they think about them as service members at all. But she points out that since 9/11, the National Guard is no longer a strategic reserve. That means families with a loved one deployed might need the local school to understand why a student is acting up, or employers to understand why a spouse might need a flexible schedule.

"People want to be supportive," Meili said. They just need to know how to help. And communities that support the military family members at home are helping the service members who are away focus on their mission."

Meili encourages her fellow National Guard spouses to find ways to connect with each other through the Air Force's Key Spouse program or the Army's Soldier and Family Readiness Groups. Even if they're more spread out than they would be on an active-duty installation, if spouses make the effort to share their stories, contribute and listen to others, the groups will prove to be valuable.

She leaned on her Key Spouse team when her husband joined the Air National Guard in 2008, and now can draw on her family's experiences as her husband moved up the ranks to provide insight.

"Get involved," Meili said. "We all have special talents."

Meili also is using her platform to ask citizens to contact their representatives in Congress in support of H.R 2974/S. 3909, the Military Spouse Hiring Act. It would expand the Work Opportunity Tax Credit to include the hiring of a qualified military spouse. It has bipartisan support but has stalled.

And she wants to make more people aware of MFAN's data-driven work. The advisory board cohort before hers drafted the military housing Tenant Bill of Rights, which went into effect in August 2021. It was based on results from MFAN's biennial Military Family Support Programming Survey.

The organization presented the latest survey's results to the Department of Defense, veteran service organizations and other members of the military community at the Solutions Summit this July.

"They asked me to be on the live fireside chat," Meili said "The summit was able to get my perspective of what was happening for spouses and families."

In his nomination letter, Meili's husband wrote, "She welcomes all into her circle and shines a light brighter than anyone I have seen."

Know a military spouse who shines their light on the community? Visit the Armed Forces Insurance Military Spouse of the Year website for nominee eligibility and program timelines.

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