A Fort Belvoir spouse represented the installation, vying for the Military Spouse of the Year, in a series of events hosted by Armed Forces Insurance. Rebecca Emerson, also a former Airman, is the wife of Lt. Col. Joseph Sawruk, from National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency.
The mother of two sons and Exceptional Family Member Program advocate, said, “I’m excited for this journey, especially that I’m relatively new to the spouse world. This has allowed me to connect to others who are passionate about military families.” Emerson left active-duty service in 2020, due to childcare and medical issues with her youngest son, who is in the EFMP.
She said one of the most pressing issues for EFMP families is using family feedback when decisions and policy are made.
“Ideally, there needs to be strategic communications between case workers, the Army, Army Community Service and medical programming,” Emerson said. She suggested an EFMP online portal, of sorts, that can work in tangent with Military OneSource.
“I went from dual military, to an instant, stay-at-home mom at the beginning of a pandemic,” she wrote in her bio. But, that gave her new roles and a chance to learn about special and early education. After watching a February 2020 testimony to Congress on EFMP, she felt compelled to volunteer for the program, ultimately finding her passion.
“I love that the military has an EFM program. It’s good to know they appreciate our experiences and acknowledge our challenges, by looking out for us,” she said.
Emerson’s husband said he’s very proud of her. “She found her passion after being active-duty and it’s hard to put in to words how proud I am,” Sawruk said. “When I see the growth in these support organizations, we know there’s a need in the military community. She doesn’t work so hard just for our children, but she’s a voice for all EFM families, across the military.”
Emerson now volunteers to lead an organization, Exceptional Families of the Military, with other military spouses. “I find volunteer work rewarding, but think that there should be more paying jobs for military spouses in the nonprofit space. The spouse lift is a heavy one and we are often left filling gaps in DoD programs with unpaid work,” Emerson wrote.
The organization is a volunteer-led non-profit that helps DoD families enrolled in EFMP. Through 18 online support groups, the group reaches about 7,000 EFMP families throughout the Defense Department. She’s led peer support groups; case management services and advocacy for EFMP families. And, the group works with the Defense Department to share and promote program resources.
Emerson also was a panelist for the 2021 Military Family Caucus on childcare, and provided three, different perspectives: active-duty, as a military spouse and an EFMP family.
“Never would I have ever thought this would be me,” she said. “I thought I’d be a contractor or working in procurement or something, using the skills I learned while in the military, like management and leadership.”
While moving up in the Air Force, she said she grew to appreciate and support spouses more, as she saw how many volunteer hours they worked, supporting military families.
Looking forward, she wants to stay primarily focused on helping EFMP families directly. She also works with a local school board to share unique education challenges that exist for military and EFMP families. Emerson said collaborating with other non-profits can form stronger, collective voices to represent military families.
She also started a support group for adults that addresses disability and health issues within the spouse community; and discusses subjects with wider scopes, like unemployment, food insecurity and base housing.
Emerson also advocates for assignment reform for EFMP families and affordable DoD childcare, so Service members can more easily focus on their missions.
“Although EFMP is my area of expertise in advocacy, I will support all spouse issues, because I care about the military family,” she said.
She is also a member of the Tricare for Kids Coalition and said, “I am passionate about communicating the needs of military children to anyone who will listen. I believe that the military spouse community is unique and supportive.”
Editor’s note – Armed Forces Insurance provided background info for this story.