"I have spent my whole career giving a voice to people who've had it taken from them. Over time, I realized that this has happened to my own community," said Lindsey Simmons. She's an attorney by trade and married to an active-duty soldier in the U.S. Army. This year, she's running for Congress from her home state of Missouri. At the core of Simmons' bid for office is her desire to ensure military families like hers are represented in decision-making -- especially in foreign policy.
Last year, when President Donald Trump announced that U.S. forces would withdraw from Northern Syria, the news devastated her family.
"Something that will always stick in my mind is my husband's face as he watched the news. The Kurds were our allies who fought alongside him, who provided assistance when needed. And we betrayed them."
When Simmons tried to explain this to her friends and family, they didn't understand why she cared so much about something so far away.
"I told them there's nothing more of a 'kitchen table issue' than when you're missing a kitchen table setting because your husband is deployed. I'm running for Congress because I'm directly impacted by these decisions," she said.
Simmons is not the only military spouse running for office.
Alexia Palacios-Peters is a Navy spouse running for the Coronado, California, School Board. Despite having a large military population, Coronado's board doesn't have any actively serving military family representation. Palacios-Peters says it shows.
"Last March, my husband deployed on the USS Lincoln. It was hard on my kids, and my middle child started having difficulties in school. His teacher wasn't giving him a lot of support," she said. "It wasn't until our third parent-teacher conference in November when I realized this teacher had no idea my son's dad had been deployed all year. Our schools need to have better awareness and support for our military kids."
Palacios-Peters has held a lot of leadership positions within the military spouse community that she believes have prepared her for this role. As circumstances started to align, her spouse encouraged her to take the leap.
"Spouses tend to take second place to their service member's career. Now that we're nearing the end of my husband's tour with the Navy, he told me it was my turn, that it was time to take this focused step toward my career, that it's what I've been waiting for. And you can quote him!" she said.
Palacios-Peters is a federal employee, so she's running in a nonpartisan race.
On the opposite side of the country, another Navy spouse (and veteran herself) Tara Bosier announced she'll be running for the Florida State Senate next cycle, in 2022. Her motivation for running echoes much of what Simmons and Palacios-Peters shared.
"Not a lot of people feel heard right now. I was talking with another Navy veteran at our kids' soccer game about how no one listens to the people on the poor side of town," Bosier said. "Later that night, I looked up the residency and filing requirements for running in Florida and thought, 'I should run.' So now I am!"
Bosier has already been at work modeling the kind of leader she wants to be. She noticed that a lot of families on the soccer team (including hers) struggled to afford to send their kids dinner before their games, she said. "So I used my network and found a nearby church that caters the meals. As a candidate, I'm going to listen to what people need and do what I can."
I've met military spouses who are hesitant to get involved in politics. Some think there are rules against it (which there really aren't; go learn more here). Some fear their service member might face career backlash (which I've never thought myself, but can understand). And so I asked each of these real-life boundary-pushers what their experience has been like so far.
Their answer was unanimously positive.
Palacios-Peters said her running for office comes up only when her husband brings it up himself. "All of his colleagues are extremely supportive," she said.
Simmons said she received a rush of support from all over the world after announcing. She gave a few examples:
"I'm running against the woman who literally authored the ban against transgender military service members. A number of trans soldiers who are active duty and closeted have reached out to say thank you. A soldier stationed in Afghanistan sent me an email after I announced to thank me for sticking up for his family when he felt he couldn't. I've become this safe place for military people to discuss things they can't speak openly about."
Rather than see their military spouse status as a liability to running for and holding office, all three women see advantages their experience has given them.
"What are the qualities you want in a leader?" asked Simmons. "Someone who can bolster morale, build relationships, navigate complex systems, and remain unflappable in the face of difficulty. Military spouses do all of these things every day -- only we don't get paid for it."
Bosier surprised me by saying that her military training to not talk about certain things publicly has actually helped her. "I'm not going on all the news sites to respond to every comment. You have to be careful and mindful," she said.
I don't know about you, but I draw tremendous inspiration from watching these women chase after what they believe in. They're part of the reason I launched the Secure Families Initiative earlier this year: the conviction that military family voices are powerful and should echo at every level of democracy, from voting to advocating to holding office. Our program helps military partners and family members find their place to get involved and influence policy until they're ready to run for office, too.
When asked what advice they would give other military spouses, here is what each of them had to say.
"Many people misconstrue that if you're affiliated with the military, you can't get involved in politics at all," Bosier said. "That's not true! In fact, I worked with some reservists who ran for office while they were still in the service."
Even more leeway exists for civilian spouses.
"Definitely get involved in local politics," Palacios-Peters urged. "You should follow the national politics scene, sure. But pay attention to what's going on around you, too. Like right now, school boards are making decisions about whether to reopen, what support to give families. This stuff affects all of us."
Simmons wrapped up by saying, "I'm just an angry wife who got pissed off and ran for office. I saw a glass ceiling to shatter, so I went for it. You should too."
Sarah Streyder is an advocate, organizer and proud military spouse who is committed to helping other military spouses and family members raise their voices on foreign policy issues that affect their lives. She also has a Master’s in Public Policy from Cambridge University, with a focus on international human rights.
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