JOINT BASE MYER-HENDERSON HALL, Va. (Army News Service, May 9, 2013) -- At the 2013 Military Spouse of the Year Awards ceremony, the nominee from the D.C. Air National Guard walked away with the top honor, but Army spouse Tara Crooks from Fort Sill, Okla., was still a winner.

A mother of two girls, Crooks, who has been a military wife for more than 15 years, represented the Army as the branch's spouse of the year. She was among six military spouses at the event, each a finalist for award, which is presented by Military Spouse magazine and sponsored by Armed Forces Insurance.

"This is completely overwhelming in an awesome way. I'm really honored," she said at the May 9 awards luncheon. "I feel like I spent a really long time representing Army families and this is just like the ultimate honor, the ultimate 'thank you.'"

Crooks, who is married to Maj. Kevin Crooks, 214th Fires Brigade, connects with other Army spouses and discusses family and military life in posts on Facebook, in podcasts, blogs, and the "Army Wife Network" she co-founded. She is also the co-author of "1,001 Things to Love About Military Life."

"It's hard work; it is great work though," she said about being an Army wife. "It's rough. I don't want to sugarcoat it, but you can find something to love about this life. I always say, no matter what comes your way, in every challenge there's an opportunity to learn, and there's an opportunity to grow. Even on the bad days, I love what I do."

Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond F. Chandler III praised Crooks for the tremendous contributions she has made to strengthen and support her family and the Army.

"She has dedicated countless hours of her time to her community, to her husband's unit and to her family to make us stronger as an Army," Chandler said. "What she does in Fort Sill and what she'll continue to do wherever they are stationed around the world will be of great benefit to our Army."

Chandler said spouses have a critical role to play in Army life.

"They're the ones who stay home and make sure that the family unit really is being able to stay together and be focused on what they need to do, so that their Soldier-spouse doesn't have to worry about it when they're deployed," Chandler said. "They also develop that kind of a community that helps our Army continue to be strong and look out for each other and take care of each other in our times of need."

Chandler noted that the contributions of his own wife, Jeanne Chandler, have been "immeasurable" in his life.

"I would not be here today if it wasn't for my wife. My success is her success. It's ours," he said. "She's my sounding board, and my best critic and I think we're a great team. I'm very grateful for her."

Jeanne Chandler said she is impressed by Crooks and said that Army spouses, male and female, contribute greatly to the Army mission.

"They are the heart of Army families because even though they don't pick up weapons and go fight our wars, their support -- not just of their spouse but of their unit and their Army post with their volunteerism -- is what makes our Army the best Army in the world," she said. "For a million and one reasons, Army families are just absolutely incredible."

D.C. Air National Guard spouse Alicia Hinds Ward, a mother of three boys, won the 2013 Military Spouse of the Award.

She said she is honored and grateful and will do the best work she can to bring attention and recognition to Guard families and the unique missions of both the Army National Guard and the Air National Guard.

The awards for the military spouses were created in 2008 to honor the contributions of the spouses who make sacrifices, raise resilient families, support deployed loved ones, volunteer in their communities, and keep their families, military and country strong.

After the ceremony in Virginia, the spouses went to the White House, where they were guests of first lady Michelle Obama and Jill Biden, Ph.D., the wife of Vice President Joe Biden. They enjoyed tea and light fare in an event that honored military mothers and wives.

The 2012 Military Spouse of the Year was Jeremy Hilton, a former Navy officer who is married to an Air Force officer.

The six finalists who competed this year for Military Spouse of the Year each had been previously named "spouse of the year" for their respective service before moving on to the Military Spouse of the Year event.

Those six women are:

-- Tara Crooks, Army Spouse of the Year
-- Alisha Youch, Navy Spouse of the Year
-- Karen Guenther, Marine Corps Spouse of the Year
-- Verenice Castillo, Air Force Spouse of the Year
-- Shelley Kimball, Coast Guard Spouse of the Year
-- Alicia Hinds Ward, National Guard Spouse of the Year, and winner of the Military Spouse of the Year award for 2013