By Nathan Pfau, Army Flier Staff WriterMarch 15, 2018
FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- Military spouses make many sacrifices for the nation and their families, but many still find time to give back even more to the communities in which they live.
For Amanda Gardner, military spouse, giving back is a way of life, and for her contributions throughout the past year, she was recognized as the Fort Rucker Spouse of the Year by "Military Spouse" magazine -- for the second year in a row.
The Military Spouse of the Year award is an honor given to spouses from all branches of service and was created to recognize those spouses who have gone above and beyond in their service, according to a letter by Lindsay Bradford, vice president of the Military Spouses Program for the magazine.
Gardner was recognized for her efforts not only in the community, but for helping all in need in times of crisis, according to the nomination letter by her friend and fellow military spouse, Amanda Saltsman.
"Amanda Gardner is more than worthy as a candidate for the Military Spouse of the year. I actually met (her) on a (Random Acts of Kindness) group on Facebook, several years back -- she was secretly sending others gifts out of kindness -- and we instantly clicked," said Saltsman in the letter. "She is not only a wife, she is a mother of four perfect children, (parent teacher association) member, team mom for her kids' sports, classroom mom and my best friend -- she runs her house like supermom and never complains."
Gardner has had her hand in various programs that she started to help the community on Fort Rucker, including a backpack program in 2017 that helped fill backpacks with school supplies for children in need.
Most notably, though, Gardner was instrumental in relief efforts that helped thousands of people who were affected by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma last year. What started off with helping as a dispatcher for relief efforts grew into something that involved thousands to help get supplies for victims of the storms.
"I worked with the Cajun Navy, (an informal volunteer group that was comprised of private boat owners to assist in relief and rescue efforts in Louisiana), and they were doing dispatching and were rescuing people who were stuck in their flooded homes and their roofs," said Gardner. "I worked with them just taking calls and relaying information to the rescuers, but then I thought, you know what, this is going to be horrible and I felt like I needed to do more."
The best way she felt she could help was by starting a group on social media to help get supplies to the families who were in need, and although she began with local donations, it quickly grew into something that had a lasting impact, she said.
"I started a Facebook group by just inviting people that I knew in the area, and before I knew it, 12,000 people later, we had donations coming in from everywhere you could think of," she said. "We were shipping off diapers, wipes, body wash, lotion -- just items people needed at the time and things that you don't think about."
Gardner was able to pair up with medical companies and even the University of Texas to help get out medical supplies and elderly care supplies to those affected, as well.
"It worked really, really well and was fantastic," she said. "I thought if we could help out one or two families it would be great, but it started growing and we had about 40 different drop-off points -- it worked out really well and it was awesome."
It's for efforts like the hurricane relief that Gardner was selected for the MSOY award, and although she said she is humbled and honored to receive the recognition, her efforts aren't for her own gratification, but to try and help those who are in need, especially those in the military community.
"Military families have always been near and dear to me, but it feels better to help than it does to get help, or even buy something for myself," she said. "It's better to give and bless somebody else.
"It's an honor to be recognized two years in a row, but I was telling my husband that it's not about bragging about anything that I do, but hopefully the word gets out and people think that they can do it, too," she said. "They might see this and think, 'Well, I can send in two more packs of paper or a couple packs of pencils to my son or daughter's class.' We don't have to go out and spend all of our money to help, but small gestures go a long way."