I am honored to be serving as your President and look forward to working with all of you on the issues that are facing us today as well as moving us into the future. Many of these issues include benefits through legislative action, outreach to members at large with no chapters to call home, organized events for members to participate in, helping to create strong recognition on the hill with a legislative voice from all members and so much more.
We all have a story to share of our loss, which is what bonds us together. I will share mine and hope to hear each of yours as we meet over the coming year.
I am the surviving spouse of Navy Search and Rescue Corpsman, HM1 Robert E. Sipes. He was 34 years old when he was killed while attempting to rescue children in a house fire, on October 8, 1995. While stationed at El Toro Marine Corps Base he flew over 55 rescue missions receiving the highest medal during a non-war time period, the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for Heroism. The U.S. National Association of EMT’s recognized him with an EMT of the year award and while stationed at Kaneohe Marine Corps Base he was meritoriously promoted. Robert was the father of three children ages 10, 2 and 6 months at the time of his death.
Having no living family that I was close to at the time of my husband’s death and nowhere to go back to, I stayed on Whidbey Island and buried myself in work to overcome the grief. I know this is a similar story for so many of us. The programs that are available to surviving military spouses today, were not available during my time or during many of our members who lost a spouse pre-911. Some of our main goals as Gold Star Spouses is to be there for one another, to encourage and share program information that will benefit each other, to help walk through that red tape and to be a united voice for change in our legislation for all surviving spouses.
I encourage you to get involved. Whether you are a member at large, a member in a chapter who hasn’t had a chance to do much or a brand new member not sure what to do yet. Reach out to your chapter or region president or even myself.
As for my work, I have worked in the hospitality and event industry for over 30 years and currently reside on Whidbey Island in Washington State. During that time I have been an active participant in volunteerism. Over the past years I have served on several boards, multiple time in leadership positions, which includes Big Brothers Big Sisters, Soroptimist International of the Americas and the Economic Development Council of Island County. I am proficient in procedures and organizational strategic planning, working with organizations, committees and individuals. I work full-time and own a travel & event planning company. I have many independent clients, but also work with organizations. The majority of my time is working with survivor events through my client, Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) as their Senior Advisor of Event Operations. I coordinate logistics and oversee most all of their in-person and many of their virtual events. In addition, I have FEMA certifications as well as a Certified Special Events Professional (CSEP) through ILEA and now, Certified Onsite Pandemic Event Protocol Specialist through ELI, Risk Assessment training through the World Health Org. and a few others in the event and travel industry. In addition, I have an Associate’s degree in graphic/web design, which I received through my Chapter 35 benefits at the age of 48. Twenty years after my husband was killed.
Gold Star Wives of America, Inc.