Babette has spent over 18 years supporting military spouses and military families. This includes MilSpouseFest - the premiere military spouse networking and support conference - as well as her work founding Military Spouse Magazine back in 2001. In this interview, we talk about planning for downtime after one’s transition from the military. We talk about the biggest challenges facing the military spouse community, and more.
Babette is the Vice President of Partnerships at MilSpouseFest, a property of Grid North. MilSpouseFest is a highly interactive, engaging and resource-driven event that includes meals, drinks, raffle items, giveaways and tons of community bonding opportunities. They are held all over the US every year, with curriculum changes every year. Babette previously founded Military Spouse magazine in 2001 shortly after 9/11, and she has spent over 18 years in the military spouse and family affinity space. She is also a fifth generation military dependent, and as you’ll see in this interview, is deeply passionate about military spouse and family issues.
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Transcript & Time Stamps:
Joining me today from Spring Branch, Texas is Babette Maxwell. Babetteis the Vice President of Partnerships at MilSpouseFest, a property of Grid North. MilSpouseFest is a highly interactive, engaging and resource-driven event that includes meals, drinks, raffle items, giveaways and tons of community bonding opportunities. They are held all over the US every year, with curriculum changes every year. Babette previously founded Military Spouse magazine in 2001 shortly after 9/11, and she has spent over 18 years in the military spouse and family affinity space. She is also a fifth generation military dependent, and as you’ll see in this interview, is deeply passionate about military spouse and family issues.
How would you explain what you do for a living?
I build partnerships to put the best resources and brands in front of as many members of the military community as possible.
How did you find yourself in this space?
I found myself in this space the day my father, who was a retired Army O-6, handed me off to my Navy husband on our wedding day and said, ‘You’re the Navy’s problem now. After we were stationed for a tour of duty in Japan, we came back to the United States. Shortly after that, 9/11 happened and that completely changed the landscape of the military community. I realized that there were very few resources out there to help modern military families.
For us, when we had our website, we had forum there and at the time, that was like cutting edge technology. Being able to build something for all military spouses gave people the opportunity to share their experiences.
You were named Military Spouse of the Year. How was that?
Military Spouse Awards was a program I built when I was still part of Military Spouse Magazine. We had been acquired by a publisher in Pittsburgh but I continued to work for them for the next 9 years. The Military Spouse of the Year program is now owned by Armed Forces Insurance.
Can you talk a little about Mil Spouse Fest?
For anyone that is interested, I suggest going to our website. It has there all of our past and future events. Once you’ve been to an event, it’s hard to describe what it’s like. It’s really a game changer. It’s interactive and so much fun.
During the first event, I was cautiously optimistic. But I stood by the door as people exited and I heard people talking about how happy they were that they had come. That showed me that we were really on to something. It’s honor for me to work with such a great group of military spouses that get how important it is for spouses to have a community to lean on.
What is the greatest challenge facing military families today?
When I first began the Military Spouse of the Year program, I realized that if I wanted DoD support, I needed to go to military spouses. A group of military spouses went to very senior level military leaders to present our idea for the Spouse of the Year program. At first, it was met with a lot of skepticism. But once we opened that line of communication, we were able to convince these leaders of the importance of military spouses in our communities.
When I first started this, I certainly wasn’t very skilled in the areas of publishing. I have a background in engineering. My skill set was in problem solving. And as I met more military spouses, I realized that were very good at problem solving and adapting as well. This is inherent in most military spouses because you’re constantly adapting to new situations and environments. Now, people are starting to recognize the value of those skills and realize how valuable military spouses can be.
How can military members support their spouses?
I think they should just aim to provide unconditional support. For me, I was very lucky. I had a spouse that really believed in what I was doing. So much so, that when I went to him with the business plan, he was completely on board. We used one of his pay bonuses to start Military Spouse Magazine. Your spouse has pitched in to support your career so you owe them the same.
What strengths do you think military members bring to the table?
Military spouses come from so many different backgrounds. They have so many different experiences. Yet there is a common thread amongst military spouses that they are very good at adapting and solving problems.
I’m constantly on the road speaking to different military spouses all over the world about the resources that are available to support them.
What were you surprised by as your husband retired from the military?
My husband immediately grew a beard and I loved that. As we got out of the military, we were looking for more down time to bond as a family. When I started Military Spouse Magazine my 18 year old wasn’t even 1 yet at that time. We went through so many different life changes throughout my husband’s time in the military.
I encourage military families time as they transition out of the military. Emotionally it take times to adjust to your new normal.
My husband few F-14s and F-18s in the Navy. I didn’t realize the stress that had taken on him until he got out. Once we had that time to really bond as a family, I realized that he was beginning to look physically different was because suddenly he didn’t have that stress weighing on him. So it’s really important for the health and wellbeing of your family to give yourself time to really establish what’s important to you during the transition process.
What messages do you want to convey to the public about the military spouse community?
After my husband retired, I took about a year off so my platform for military spouses isn’t as robust as it once was. But the issues I believe are important to convey surround legislation and making sure military members and their pay are protected under the law.
Coast Guard members are currently going without pay during the government shutdown. These are people that are sacrificing every single day. That absolutely needs to change.
What resources do you recommend surrounding these issues?
The Military Influencer Conference is fantastic. It’s a great place to learn and support this community.
I just encourage people to get involved in their community wherever they are.
I believe Mil Spouse Fest is so vibrant because I think people crave a personal connection face-to-face.
Do you have any advice for military families facing the transition out of the military?
Don’t be looking for jobs at the same time. Do the best you can to make sure at least you or your spouse has a job in the location where you will move. That will create stability. Looking for a job is incredibly stressful so to go through that process at the same time is very difficult.
Your needs as a family are unique and there will be a lot of challenges that you will face. You need to be prepared for those challenges.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with listeners?
I feel very blessed to have gotten to do what I did throughout my career. For me, I won’t take ‘No’ for answer. The advice I would give is to believe in yourself. Nobody else will believe in you if you don’t believe in yourself. Have faith in yourself.