Giving back to the local community is one of the duties that come along with service to one’s country. There are some people, like Nicole Bridge, who don’t wear the uniform, but give back in an equally large way. After volunteering more than 1,200 hours to the local community, Bridge was awarded the distinguished title of the 2016 Joan Orr Air Force Spouse of the Year.
Bridge, spouse of Tech. Sgt. Matthew J. Bridge, 521st Air Mobility Operations, Ramstein Air Base, Germany, devoted her time without monetary gain.
“There are so many other things you’re receiving if you can get past the money side of it,” Bridge said. “The skills that you learn, the friends that you make, the difference that you make in the community, even if you make a difference in one person’s life; to me — that’s worth it.”
A mother to one and three-year-old boys, Bridge oversaw and managed the Ramstein Enlisted Spouses’ Association as president. She organized 125 events, and generated $250,000 for distribution into the Kaiserslautern Military Community. Additionally, Bridge was elected as treasurer for the non-profit organization Americans Working Around the Globe and oversaw the allocation of $175,000.
Bridge also assisted more than 25 new mothers as a national lactation consultant. She became a certified pre and post-natal personal trainer, teaching more than fifty personnel how to safely exercise.
However, the California-native hadn’t always been an active volunteer.
It started four years ago, during the Bridges’ initial change of station. Pregnant with their first son, Bridge searched for work with flexible hours in their new German community.
“I had worked full time, coaching a dance team and teaching at a dance studio,” Bridge said. “Once we moved overseas, I realized all those things I was doing I wasn’t able to do or at least not right away.”
Consequently, Bridge decided she had to change perspectives.
“I struggled a lot with [the thought that] ’I’m not financially providing for my family’,” Bridge said. “I felt stuck and volunteering has alleviated that from me. It’s provided me a sense of well-being.”
After starting out with the Ramstein thrift shop, Bridge stepped into the role of president of the RESA in 2014 and 2015 and began facilitating events.
“It is really rewarding to be part of the background work, then step back and see how much it’s impacting everyone,” Bridge said.
The thrift shop, for example, directly impacts the KMC by sending 80% of its profits from donated goods right back to base organizations such as booster clubs and award ceremonies.
While working with various institutions, Bridge honed leadership, financial, business and organizational skills. In order to improve all the volunteers’ processes personally and professionally, Bridge attended an AWAG seminar.
Bridge was later elected as treasurer for the non-profit organization in 2015 and 2016.
“Our time in AWAG gave us many tools to take back home and implement into our organization,” said Jillian Romag, former RESA vice president, and AWAG member. “Some of the things we learned we were able to pass on to our members and their spouses, such as resume writing, volunteer appreciation and post-duty transitioning.”
Bridge strongly believes her acquired skills will pay off in the future.
For now, she is grateful for all the support she has received.
“I think the phrase ’It takes a village’ is true,” Bridge said. “I was in shock [when I received the news of winning the 2016 Joan Orr Air Force Spouse of the Year award]. It was a humbling experience. It made me sit down and think about who it took to even get to this level.”
Bridge’s family’s, friends’, coworkers’ and mentors’ support helped her balance her role as a wife and mother, alongside being an active volunteer.
“I would not have been able to volunteer the amount of hours I did without my village,” Bridge said. “It had nothing to do with me. I was fortunate enough to be elected into that leadership position and was surrounded by people that had the same vision who wanted to see everything to fruition.”
Her husband, Tech. Sgt. Matthew Bridge believes her motivation was attributed to all the great people she worked with from various organizations.
“I am completely in awe of her and unbelievably proud of her,” Matthew Bridge said. “Moving to a new location can be a tough transition. Nicole ventured out to make friends and give back to the community, but ended up with something far greater, which is a strong support system and friends who feel like family. I know she did not do this for recognition, but did it to make our community and Air Force better.”