About 200 military spouses gathered at the Kiwanis Recreation Center Nov. 8 for the first Spouses in Military (SiM) Expo.
The event was hosted by the Greater Fayetteville Chamber Military Affairs Council (MAC) to benefit the USO of the NC Sandhills’ Spouse Reset program. The free event was an all-day affair with vendors from nonprofits, local businesses, education programs, social services and more from the Fort Bragg and Fayetteville area. Christine Michaels, MAC president and chief executive officer, said her organization decided to start this endeavor to acquaint spouses with the area and to give the attendees a chance to network.
MAC has never done anything focused specifically on spouses prior to this event, according to Michaels. The idea that sparked the conception of the SiM, which she hopes will become an annual conference in the future, came from the Fayetteville Area Convention & Visitors Bureau’s theme of recognizing spouses for Heroes Homecoming this year.
“Why would we not want to do that as well?” Michaels said. “We want to recognize the commitment that (spouses) have made to this country.”
The expo was put together within a few months and Michaels said the MAC is “very pleased about that” because an event of that scale was organized that quickly.
The highlight of the SiM was the luncheon, which was attended by more than 150 military spouses, where Wesley Bauguess was the keynote speaker. Bauguess is a Gold Star spouse, former Army officer, golfer and mother of two from Raleigh, North Carolina.
She spoke to her audience about finding strength during hardship in Army life, finding her life calling through her talents during the changing tides of life events, conquering grief during the loss of her husband who was killed in action, being resilient when faced with adversity and setting oneself up for success.
As Bauguess delivered her speech, shared how she and her family have spent the last 11 years living without her husband, Larry, and talked about using her grief as a drive to help others, all eyes in the room were transfixed onto her.
“But I will tell you that if we sat here crumpled and defeated; if we felt sorry for ourselves and we quit, Larry Bauguess would come back down here and kick us square in the backside,” she said. “He would say, ‘I didn’t give my life so you can stop living yours.’”
Bauguess said she was excited to come back to the Fayetteville and Fort Bragg area because the community is special to her heart.
“There’s just a sweet spirit here and this community supports these Soldiers so well,” she said. “I love military spouses, what they do and how they support their service members. I’m just delighted to be back here to offer a few words to encourage and to thank them.”
She hopes the spouses feel energized and motivated after listening to her speech.
“I just hope that they come away renewed with the confidence of knowing that there are people out there that really, really appreciate their lives,” she said. “I just hope that through sharing my story, they just have another ounce of resilience, just a little more motivation to keep going and living this life as well and they can.”
Among the Fort Bragg spouses who had the opportunity to hear Bauguess speak were Anna Nguyen and Ellen Edmonson. Both wives were moved by learning about Bauguess’ experience.
“It was really inspirational,” Edmonson said. “My Soldier goes off to war and deploys, and you have to deal with those hard subjects, whether you talk about regularly or not, or what if they were to get killed. It’s really hard to imagine that. But to know somebody who’s had to walk that walk full-out, you give them a lot of respect and a lot of honor.”
Nguyen, who attended the event to get some adult time without her kids, said she was happy to be there to meet other spouses in the community and exchange stories. Like Edmonson, she was inspired by Bauguess’ speech.
“(Bauguess) is so amazing,” she said. “She has succeeded by finding things that are very important to her and being still in the military. She was not only able to succeed, but move on while honoring her husband.”