In his State of the Coast Guard address, Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Bob Papp announced a renewed commitment to military families and announced 2011 as the Year of the Coast Guard Family. Coast Guard leadership and members of the service have vowed to ensure our military members, and their families, have the resources they need to be their best. With today being Military Spouse Appreciation Day, this week’s Shipmate of the Week is a testament to the strength and resiliency of the Coast Guard family.
Military families across America endure separation from their loved ones as servicemembers deploy to perform vital missions in defense of our nation. Despite the challenges that come with deployment and time apart, the military family must remain resilient in service to each other while their loved ones perform missions at sea or abroad. Coast Guard spouse Laura Vanderwerf is one of these dedicated family members and is a source of strength for countless other military families.
Vanderwerf, a military spouse for 23 years, is married to Master Chief Petty Officer Terence Vanderwerf, the current 11th Coast Guard District command master chief. Her husband’s role as a command master chief is vital to operational readiness and mission success. As a military spouse, Vanderwerf knows her role is equally as important as she advocates for families and champions key programs that support servicemembers.
Over the past 17 years, Vanderwerf has served as an ombudsman for four units her husband has served at including the 17th Coast Guard District. As a bridge between the command and unit families, she has impacted the lives of hundreds of families of active duty and reserve members across the nation, including units in Alaska, Washington and California.
“Laura was a crucial part of a team that helped relocate families during Hurricane Katrina in 2005,” said Terry Garrison, close friend and fellow ombudsman. “Family members were able to contact Laura and she would assist them with locating temporary housing until they could be reunited with their families.”
Her ability to touch so many lives has made an impact in every community she and her family have been a part of as she supported families by finding resources, communicating command information and addressing community concerns to the command.
“She has dedicated so much of her personal time to Coast Guard families; personal time that she was more than willing to give up, and yet, despite all of her efforts in mentoring families, she still made time for her role as wife and mother,” said Garrison.
Vanderwerf’s belief in the strength of families is evident in the success of her own, as she has raised three children – Joshua and Ryan, who both serve in the U.S. Air Force, and Katy, a college student pursuing a degree in medicine. After years of support to her children and husband, Vanderwerf has turned the focus in on herself, and is currently a full-time student pursuing a bachelor’s degree.
Her ability to strengthen her family and community has led Vanderwerf to be chosen as the Coast Guard Military Spouse of the Year by Military Spouse Magazine. In an interview with the magazine, Vanderwerf was asked what advice about being a military spouse would she give herself if she could go back in time. Vanderwerf responded with words that not only inspires other military spouses, but reinforces the essential support that every spouse requires:
“I would tell myself, as I tell other new military spouses, to trust yourself and your spouse. Don’t say, ‘I can’t do it,’ because you can; you are stronger than you think. You never know how strong and independent you are until the situation arises that you need to be. As a military spouse you must be flexible; the military often throws curve balls, so you need to be able to adjust and adapt.”
Vanderwerf not only enriches the lives of her family, but also demonstrates the same commitment to fellow military spouses. She knows all too well that while military members are off serving our nation, they may miss many of life’s milestones and memories with their family. Yet, she embraces these challenges as a way to strengthen her family and the Coast Guard community. Vanderwerf, and other family members like her, form a stronger military family and a stronger Coast Guard.