Friday, February 24, 2017

TOP STORY >> Spouses make a difference in Air Force

Leader staff writer

Brittany Boccher, an Air Force spouse, believes one person can make a difference. And she’s living proof.

Boccher has been chosen as Little Rock Air Force Base Military Spouse of the Year for the second time. She has been recognized as one of the top 18 Military Spouses of the Year by Military Spouse magazine. The top 18 come from the six branches of the military.

Boccher is in the top three for the Air Force. An overall winner will be announced at a luncheon held May 12 in Arlington, Va.


“We had some really wonderful individuals competing for Little Rock. It’s an honor,” Boccher said. “It’s a very humbling experience to be the representative for the spouses at the base, and I really try to utilize that title and what comes with it to reach out to spouses, get their opinion on things, what they’re wanting to see changed or improved and really be the active voice for them.”

Making it to the top 18 was a surprise for Boccher. “If you read any of the profiles, there are some exceptional spouses that are doing phenomenal things throughout the Air Force, and they all have different platforms,” she said.

Boccher’s platform is special needs families. She has a son with Down syndrome.

“It’s important to me to see those programs improve, because I believe there’s always room for improvement in any program,” she said.

Boccher says she was nominated by three individuals. “One was a fellow spouse two were colleagues, friends,” she said. “Most of it is because of the work that I’ve done not only at the spouses club, but I’m also the active parent liaison for EFMP (Exceptional Family Member Program) so I’ve really put myself out there for special needs families. Outside of the military community I’m extremely active in the Down syndrome community here in Arkansas.”

She says she feels it’s important to garner relationships outside of the gate and to build that community that supports Little Rock AFB. “I tie in my work with the Down syndrome community with the base in the exceptional family member program and try to really marry those two together,” she said. “So that’s, I’m assuming, how I was nominated this year.”

Boccher looks forward to the town hall and award luncheon in May.

“The town hall is an amazing opportunity not only to discuss platforms with other spouses and get networking and feedback on what they’re doing at their installations,” she said. “You get to meet individuals who can help you open doors or give you the names of people you need to pursue for your specific platform. I can tell you the Military Spouse of the Year program, as a whole, has really made my voice heard over being Brittany Boccher that’s just pounding at the door because I want a therapeutic special needs swing for children, versus saying ‘I’m Brittany Boccher. I’m president of the spouses club and I’m Military Spouse of the Year and I really want to see this get done.’ It’s just really provided me the voice. I already had the foundation and the platform but it’s opened those doors for me.”

The Armed Forces Insurance Military Spouse of the Year® award presented by Military Spouse magazine was founded in 2008 by Military Spouse magazine and Victory Media. Since 2012, the title sponsor has been Armed Forces Insurance.


Boccher was approached last May about becoming president of the Little Rock Spouses Club. “The spouses club was in jeopardy of closing about a year ago,” she said. “I took over in May of last year and we had zero members. We’re at about 90 members now. We’re going strong. We’re really growing and making an impact on base. We’re becoming more relevant on base. People realize we have a club again and what we’re doing is not just social effort. A majority of our job is welfare and scholarships. Philanthropy work is what we do.”

She says serving as president was fitting for her as she holds a master’s degree in nonprofit management. “I knew how to come in and really save it from where it was. The board of directors that I have is phenomenal. I have people with marketing experience, social media experience, communications, fundraising, not just people who want to fill a seat on the board,” she said. “I have active military spouses who have education and experience, which will probably never happen again, to have this type of board dynamic, and we came together and pulled it out of the mud. We have it thriving. I wouldn’t be able to do what I’ve been able to do with it without the team of board members because they all bring a very specific niche to the team. It’s been a wonderful experience.”

The group raised $10,000 in in-kind contributions and financial donations during the Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons for Stuff the Pantry. “The food pantry on base was bare, and we actually stuffed that pantry to maximum capacity to where they couldn’t even take any more items,” she said. “We didn’t know it was going to be that successful. My welfare coordinator Katie Gomez really was the lead of that. She knocked it out of the park. We just did what she needed us to do.”

The group also helps with the Backpack Brigrade program and the Airman’s Attic. The club helped the base schools get pollinator gardens and physical education equipment. They also run a thrift store on base that funds the group’s scholarship program. This year around $15,000 in scholarships will be awarded to active-duty spouses and active-duty dependant high school seniors.

Boccher is active in her community and tries to encourage military spouses to do three things.

Embrace the military life. “It’s one of those if I knew then what I know now. Then, almost 12 years ago I dug my feet it,” she said. “I didn’t want to move I didn’t want to give up my job, friends, family, all of that. I probably said a hundred times I just want to go home. The whole time I was home, I was with my husband, but that’s not what I could see. So I encourage them to embrace the military life.”

Embrace the community and military community. “They’re such a welcoming community outside the gate,” Boccher said. “They’re very supportive. They provide resources for us, and the community on base. Really open up, make friends. Put yourself out there. Normally the way it works is you’re two years in, you get those orders and you’re like ‘I just started making friends.’”

Embrace the opportunities the military affords to military spouses. “There are way more opportunities than people are probably aware of, and it’s just the opportunity to learn about those opportunities, and really seeking those opportunities because they’re there,” she said. “That’s really my goal on the spouse side, is to help them in those three stages, to see where they can fit in and how they can grow.”


Boccher and her husband have a son and a daughter. Their son, 2, has Down syndrome.

There are around 350 to 400 special needs families at the base, according to Boccher.

“All bases are going to have families with exceptional needs. Some bases are better equipped to handle families with exceptional needs, which is why you’re kind of filtered to specific areas,” she said. “This area is where a lot of children are because of the children’s hospital and the ability for services.”

Boccher says she believes the military doesn’t want to see a family be stationed at an installation where they don’t have adequate resources. “The active-duty spouse is unable to do their job effectively and efficiently because they’re concerned about their family and the resources they need,” she said. “The EFMP is there to ensure the family has the resources they need so the active duty member can fulfill their duty and their work and not have to worry so much about their family.”

Boccher and her husband, Adam, a special agent for Air Force Office of Special Investigations, have founded a nonprofit called the Down Syndrome Advancement Coalition. The group will work to build relationships with other Down syndrome organizations in central Arkansas.

“That is our philanthropy work outside of the base,” she said. “I’m the founder and president. This is the first year to be fully active. We’re building our membership right now. We have plans on fundraising to eventually get a Gigi’s Playhouse in central Arkansas.”

Gigi’s Playhouse is an organization designed specifically for those with Down syndrome. The organization provides resources such as math tutoring, literacy programs, life skill programs, new parent outreach, dad and mom groups. It hits really everything from social to physical, having a playground that’s equipped for children with Down syndrome, as well as the education component and the social and life skills preparedness.”

Gigi’s Playhouse, while primarily for those with Down syndrome, will also be able to be utilized by others with disabilities. It will be a free service to the community.

Arkansas has a clinic for adults with Down syndrome and Arkansas Children’s Hospital will soon have a pediatric Down syndrome clinic, according to Boccher.

“Not only will this be the first state in the U.S. to have both of those clinics, we’re talking about them being miles apart from each other,” she said. “This is really going to draw a lot of the Down syndrome community and family from surrounding states because it’s all going to be in one place. We’ll have a vast amount of resources for people. The coalition that I’ve founded will help all of the small organizations that are really pounding the pavement and say ‘let’s work together and join forces and really help you get your specific mission done’ instead of other people trying to recreate what’s already being done.”

The coalition hopes to launch a website next month. The group is “waiting on a few more legal things to come in and then we’ll be ready to launch it,” Boccher said. “Right now we’re kind of doing the behind the scenes. We’re actively working. We have our board of directors built. We’re really excited about that.”