Volunteer Spotlight

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Spotlight on Gayle Bolinger

President, Board of Governors 1983-1984

Everyone has his or her reason for volunteering or working with the National Military Family Association. For Gayle Bolinger, it was frustration and dissatisfaction with the status quo that brought her to headquarters. She started as a volunteer in 1981, and by the time she left the Association four and a half years later, she had blazed a trail that would set the Association up to be the leading advocate for military families.

As a new Coast Guard wife in New York City in 1980, Gayle and her husband had a less than great experience with their PCS. The moving van had run over many pieces of their furniture and lost their sofa cushions. “They tried to tell us that we had never packed them,” Gayle says.

Settling in didn’t quite go as smoothly either. While she had a good corporate job with JC Penney, Bolinger’s military benefits left much to be desired. “The commissary on Governor’s Island quite regularly ran out of milk, bread, meat and other staples,” she recalls. “I wasn’t particularly impressed with our military benefits — especially the low moving reimbursements, etc. Needless to say I was not a happy camper.”

Just after six months, however, Bolinger’s husband was able to get a transfer to Washington, DC. And just before the move, he had read an article in the Navy Times about the National Military Wives Association and their lobbying efforts on Capitol Hill. “He brought it home to me and said, ‘I think when you get to DC you should volunteer with the group and channel your frustrations more constructively.’” And that’s exactly what Gayle did.

In January 1981, Gayle began volunteering with the Association, under its former name. Gayle says. “I barely knew how our laws got passed but I advocated for our causes and along the way learned about Congress and how to get legislation passed.”

After about a year of advocating, Gayle was elected to the Association’s board as vice president for planning, and oversaw the lobbying efforts and development of fact sheets and testimony for use on Capitol Hill. “I’d never written a fact sheet for Congress or prepared testimony but that didn’t stop me from doing it.”

A year later, Gayle was named president of the board and worked to change the organization’s tax status to a 501(c)(3), a charitable organization, so the Association would be eligible to receive tax-deductible contributions and be part of the Combined Federal Campaign. During her tenure, Gayle achieved several milestones to help establish the organization as we know it today. Among her many accomplishments, she helped change the organization’s name to the National Military Family Association and succeeded in getting the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to be the Association’s first member, created the Regional Representative program, created the Board of Advisors, with founder Anna Chennault;  and attracted national media recognition and coverage of the Association through interviews with the Washington Post, Atlanta Constitution, and local and national television shows, such as “Donahue” and “Nightline.”

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