Stepping up to Support Military Families

 By Eric Scott

When Jennifer Sugarman isn't supporting Northrop Grumman's communication efforts as an employee communicator in Melbourne, Florida, she devotes time to what she calls her “cool volunteer side gig” — building stronger connections between military families and her community on Florida’s Space Coast as an Air and Space Force Civic Leader (ASFCL).

"ASFCLs bridge the gap between what military families need and what the community can provide support for," said Jennifer of the program, which is jointly sponsored by the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Space Force. "I have always been a staunch supporter of our military. My grandfather and aunt were in the Air Force and my father was a U.S. Marine before retiring as a commander in the Navy Reserves, so I grew up around the military culture and remember how I felt when he'd go on active reserve duty."

Prior to joining Northrop Grumman in 2021, Jennifer served for seven years as president and CEO of the Cocoa Beach Regional Chamber of Commerce in Merritt Island, Florida, and oversaw the Chamber's Military Affairs Council. Working with the Air Force and Space Force on local fundraising efforts to support service members and their families, Jennifer learned of the ASFCL opportunity and couldn't pass it up.

Brigadier General Wayne Montieth, the former commander of the 45th Space Wing at Patrick Space Force Base in Brevard County, Florida, nominated Jennifer to serve as an ASFCL. Her position was granted in 2021 with a letter signed by the Secretary of the Air Force, the Air Force Chief of Staff and the Chief of Space Operations.

Tackling Challenges

For Jennifer, it's rewarding to see the positive impact of her efforts.

"I've been able to assist military families in finding affordable housing options and also connect local schools supporting STEM programs with recruiters promoting future opportunities for area students who love science, math and technology,” said Jennifer. “Creating stronger ties between our local military and civilian communities is very exciting for me."

One specific issue impacting military families that Jennifer has been focused on solving is the affordability of licensure.

"For example, if the spouse of a military member is a state-licensed therapist and they are making an upcoming move to another state because of a base transfer, how can we in the surrounding community help make that professional license transfer more efficient and affordable?" said Jennifer, who has been working with her ASFCL colleagues to resolve this concern.

Last year, Jennifer's volunteer role as an ASFCL took her to Washington, D.C. on a civic leaders trip. There, she met with fellow volunteers from around the country who joined Air Force and Space Force leaders at the Pentagon for detailed briefings from military leadership. The trip also featured a visit to Joint Base Andrews in Prince George's County, Maryland, for a tour of Air Force Two, the military jet designated for the Vice President, the First Lady and members of the Cabinet and Congress.

Two-Way Support

Her role as an ASFCL requires a significant time commitment, said Jennifer, but it’s well worth it. She gets a lot of support from her family and friends.

"My friends realize this is a big deal for me,” said Jennifer. “The veterans in my family understand that this is an important role, and my children and husband are proud of me — which is all that matters!"

Jennifer sees the volunteer position as the perfect complement to her role at Northrop Grumman.

"At Northrop Grumman, we are focused on what we can do to meet our customer’s needs,” said Jennifer. “Outside of work, as a citizen of my community, I'm constantly thinking of how I can support the people who keep our country free. This role is one small way that I can give back, to help make their lives as easy as possible, to ensure their families feel supported and allow them to do their jobs more effectively."

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