Today I will be marching in the 57th Presidential Inaugural Parade alongside some of the best people I know. I was given this opportunity because I am lucky enough to be a part of the Military Spouses of Michigan (MSoM). Six of us founded MSoM in early 2012 while sitting at a corner table in a Bennigan's somewhere in Southeast Michigan. Being military spouses, partners and family members ourselves, we knew that our community was scattered throughout the state of Michigan, and with no active-duty base in our state, our families often felt isolated and alone and lacked the resources available to family members stationed on or near active-duty bases. We have accomplished a lot in our short existence, and through our community events we have been able to bring together all types of military families, from spouses and partners to parents and even adults who grew up as "military brats." It's humbling to have an organization like ours be recognized as significant enough to represent the state of Michigan in the Presidential Inaugural Parade, and I cannot wait to march alongside all the amazing people I've met through MSoM.
But the opportunity to march isn't special just because it's the inaugural parade for our president and is a really big deal. It's not special just because there were over 2,800 entries by amazing groups and organizations across the country that applied to march in the parade, yet only around 43 were selected, and MSoM happened to be one of them. It's not special just because I get to take a road trip to our nation's capital to be a part of history, and I get to do it with some of my best friends. There is another reason that having this opportunity is particularly significant to me, and it goes deeper than getting to just say I was there. This will be the first time I get to openly show my pride as a military partner among other spouses, partners, families, service members and veterans on a very public stage. I can take my place alongside them and the person I love, showing my support for my president, my country, our military and the families that serve alongside them.
Another reason that marching in the parade with MSoM will be meaningful is that I was invited to be a part of this -- not just to the parade, but I was invited, welcomed and embraced when I became a part of MSoM. The women who co-founded MSoM approached me when they were thinking about creating an organization. They were in the process of forming an advisory board, and they asked me to be part of it with the intention of being inclusive of all types of military families. For once, I didn't have to build up the nerve to knock on the door and attempt to enter a space where I wasn't sure whether I would be welcomed. It is exhausting to always be the one who doesn't belong; it is scary to continuously knock on doors, holding your breath each time and waiting to see whether or not they'll be opened to you. It wears on you after a while to have to give yourself a pep talk each time a door is slammed in your face or you are told to keep waiting to be included until attitudes change or until it "gets better."
People, organizations and institutions have the power to make things better. They have power over their own attitudes, policies and practices in most cases. They have the ability to be proactive, to treat people with respect and to think about how their actions reflect their values. Military Spouses of Michigan was an organization that, from the beginning, decided that it would exist to serve the families of those who serve our country, no matter what those families look like. MSoM is there for anyone who loves someone in the military, and it's as simple as that. That's our definition of a military family.
The women of MSoM were there for me through a really tough deployment with my former partner of five years, an active-duty soldier; they were by my side when she returned home from Afghanistan and I struggled with knowing how to support her when she was having trouble with reintegration; they held me up when our relationship finally collapsed under the stress of years living under the "don't ask, don't tell" policy and the strain of being separated while she was stationed across the country and, after making it through everything else, figuring out we just weren't headed in the same direction any longer. Then they supported me when, months later, I met someone new who also happened to be military. When my other friends found out that piece of information, I heard a lot of "Ariana, don't do this to yourself again." Meanwhile, my military spouse friends put their arms around me, smiled encouragingly and said, "Well, I guess you really have a type... So tell me about her."
I could not be happier to be a part of MSoM or to call these women my friends. I am thrilled to be marching with them in the Presidential Inaugural Parade, and I am both proud and humbled to represent an organization that made the decision to live out our stated values through our actions and policies, an organization that decided from the beginning to include everyone who deserves to be included.