When husbands and wives are called to war, Stephanie Leiter is there for the families left behind.
The Amherst Steele High School graduate has been named Military Spouse of the Year for Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri, where she’s been stationed three years.
The honor is conferred by Armed Forces Insurance and Military Spouse magazine.
Leiter narrowly missed out on the cut for the competition’s 18 national award finalists — three from each military branch — announced Feb. 16.
Final voting for the winner will be March 2. The overall winner will be announced May 10.
At Whiteman, she has supported the families of deployed service personnel, used her graphic design skills to create event fliers, set up monthly themed events, and even created a program to track all expecting spouses in the squadron.
Her efforts focus on educating and mentoring new military spouses. Leiter works to motivate her fellow spouses to become more involved in base events.
“I cannot thank God enough for making my existence fruitful and ensuring that my focus stay its course through the deeds that I get to do for others,” she said. “This award is a symbol of the blessings that I have received throughout my life, and a shining beacon that I am still alive and have capable hands to help others.”
Leiter is a veteran herself. Moreover, she knows exactly what it feels like to need the love and support of the military community.
In 2007, three months after separating from the military, she was grievously injured in a 30-foot fall off the side of a mountain. She suffered several spine fractures, dislocations, and shattered vetebrae.
“I had tiny bone shards sticking into my spinal cord and was paralyzed from the waist down,” she said. “I went into immediate surgery to try and salvage my spinal cord and possibly be able to walk again. My husband was deployed to Iraq at this time. I only had the few friends at that base. I spent nine hours in surgery. When I woke up the next day, my husband was sitting at my bedside. The American Red Cross had contacted him at his location, pulled him out, and rushed him home to me.”
Doctors were stunned when Leiter learned to walk again, she said.
Throughout the healing process, people were always there to help. “At a time when I thought I had almost no one, people I hardly knew came and brought food, flowers, games and rubbed my feet,” she said.
Their kindness inspired her. Today, Leiter said her life’s mission is to help anyone she can at any time.
”I feel like it is my duty and I am here for a reason. I could never give back enough to say how thankful I am for the amazing doctors who performed a miracle” or for all those who have been there at her side every since, she said.
”I know the feeling of needing help, but being too proud to ask, or not knowing where to go. I want to be one of the people that always shows up. I don’t want any military spouse to feel that they are alone or unimportant.”
The experience ignited a fire in the Amherst native to get involved in Easter Seals, Veterans Affairs, and to become a Key Spouse — someone who serves as a link between spouses and squadron leadership.