I am SCHRIEVER: Taking care of the homefront

SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. - The month of May offers several opportunities to honor U.S. service members. May encapsulates National Military Appreciation Month, Armed Forces Day and Memorial Day to name a few observances.

But every year, the Friday before Mother's Day offers Americans an opportunity to honor another individual, crucial to the health and mission readiness of married service members - the military spouse.

Jahnna Bythewood has carried that role for 18 years in union with her husband, Col. Dennis Bythewood, 50th Operations Group commander.

Jahnna and Dennis, whose fathers were stationed at Royal Air Force Alconbury, in Huntingdon, England, met in the 5th grade, and consequently spent 6th and 7th grade together.

"He actually had longer hair and bangs down to the bridge of his nose. And a lot of the girls in class had crushes on him," laughed Jahnna.

When their families eventually moved to different places stateside, Jahnna wrote one particular letter to Dennis that included her phone number.

Eight years later, the phone number reunited Jahnna and Dennis, who was then a second lieutenant at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, the same state Jahnna's family moved to years ago. Their friendship quickly rekindled and led to five years of dating before saying their "I dos."

"Meeting Jahnna again at 22 was like meeting a new person. The long friendship allowed us to get past the 'getting to know you' stage and concentrate on knowing who we were as young 20-somethings," said Dennis.

Since that day, Jahnna's life has been filled with many joys, lessons learned and greater understanding of counting the cost of assuming the role of a military spouse.

"We are the ones (who) are taking care of the homefront and making sure everything is stable and secure for our spouse so that it does not create more stress for our Airmen while at work. It means being adaptable. We give support to our spouses and the Air Force by taking care of our families - whether we have children or not - and by recreating a 'home' in each new duty station," said Jahnna.

Creating a new "home" at each new duty station had been one of the biggest challenges Jahnna faced throughout her life with her family.

"When you move to a new place, you don't really feel like you want to start over again and build new relationships. Sometimes when people find out that you're a military spouse, they kind of immediately pull back and don't want to be a part of your life or befriend you because they know that you're only going to be there for so long," explained Jahnna.

Jahnna learned overcoming this difficulty would take a step of boldness and diving head-first into getting involved. Being a military spouse has led her to be heavily engaged in her children's schools, supporting arts, science, technology, engineering and mathematics programs, and serve in local food drives.

Being adaptable to change, although tough, has strengthened Jahnna's family.

"We learn to depend on our immediate family and make new connections in our community," said Jahnna.

In addition to the challenge of belonging to a community, another sacrifice Jahnna has faced was putting her own passions on hold for her husband's duties.

"Jahnna was a graphic designer. The pressures of family and moving certainly made her take a backseat to pursuing her passions and support me and the family," said Dennis.

At a young age, Jahnna began drawing and getting into graphic arts. Her pursuit led to a degree in art history and an internship as a graphic designer. She continued working as a freelance graphic designer for 10 years but stopped when her third child was born.

Although military orders didn't allow Jahnna to settle and flourish artistically in one location, she didn't let her circumstances stop her passions altogether.

Jahnna served in art history and art programs in her children's schools. She worked with organizations that taught a specific style of art to students based on a genre or medium and collaborated with local artists on projects. She also contributed to Colorado Springs public art and local schools by creating a butterfly artwork, which sold at auction for $3,200. The display can be seen at the First and Main Town Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

"These are things I've done since a very young age. When I'm creating and doing something new, it makes me feel alive like," Jahnna explained.

Of all the artistic styles Jahnna practices, one could argue the most notable is the art of adaptation. She openly admits the life of a military spouse is not an easy road. In the past, Jahnna shared she has been treated for anxiety and depression due to the sacrifices that have been required of her.

"I think that definitely is a challenge that I think a lot of (spouses) have. They feel isolated. They've moved around a lot. But the fact is the Air Force has the capacity to help you when you're in that situation. Don't be afraid to reach out to your neighbors for help," she said.

Jahnna insists the military spouse's importance is not to be overlooked. But where there are hardships, one must find a community there to lean on.

"The fact is, life has a way of throwing curve balls all the time. But having a network of support in your community - other military friends, neighbors, key spouses - can take so much of that anxiety away. Don't be afraid to get involved in your community, whether it's through your kids or through your (spouse's) work or something you're passionate about. I believe there's always a place for somebody in the community," she said.