Athens Pellegrino, a 2015 graduate of TROY Online’s Master of Public Administration program, was recently nominated for the 2022 Armed Forces Insurance Military Spouse of the Year (MSOY) award.
The MSOY award was created in 2008 to honor military spouses from all ranks and branches of service and to recognize their contributions and commitment to their families, community and country. Pellegrino is one of 149 men and women nominated for this year’s award.
“The Armed Forces Insurance Military Spouse of the Year program is more than an award,” said Lori Simmons, Chief Growth and Marketing Officer at Armed Forces Insurance. “It’s the largest and long-standing, mission-driven community of military spouse leaders. If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years, it’s that we truly are stronger together.”
A native of Ocean City, New Jersey, Pellegrino moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania at 17 years old to attend Saint Joseph’s University. While attending Saint Joseph’s, she met her husband of nearly 13 years, Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Christopher Pellegrino. The pair later both graduated from the TROY Online master’s program together.
Over the course of their marriage, the Pellegrinos have experienced 12 deployments, eight official permanent change of stations (PCS) and multiple temporary (TDY) moves with stays in Alabama, Arkansas, Texas, Florida, New Mexico and England. Having never lived so far from home—except for a study abroad year in Greece her junior year of college—Pellegrino said she was apprehensive about military life and the many changes coming her way.
“I uprooted from my career, family and friends. I did not know one single person nor was familiar with the area,” she said of their first move to Florida. “Chris was completing training at the time and I relocated down to the area completely by myself to try and get settled before our wedding. There was a very steep learning curve. Once Chris completed training things started to fall in place, but then we were faced with countless TDYs and stressful deployments.
“At this point, I go with the flow when it comes to moving. I focus on my family and what we need as a unit to help us assimilate and thrive. We make a point to have open communication and do as many activities together to ease transition and discomfort. We try to keep stable activities for our kids to build familiarity and confidence; we are all in this lifestyle together and can learn vastly from one another.”
In addition to working full time as a civilian budget analyst for the Air Force, Pellegrino is the author of a series of children’s books, “The Military Child Chronicles,” dedicated to helping military children adjust to the ever-changing lives of the military family. Despite having experience in military life, she said she never realized the full extent of the difficulties military families face until they had children of their own.
The first book, “Mission: My First PCS,” released just over 8 months ago and features their 3-year-old son, Atticus. The second book, “Mission: Mistletoe” released in December and features their daughter, Callista, who is almost 2.
“I hoped to find books to be able to help families cope with PCS challenges, but there seemed to be minimal resources available,” she said. “I wanted to create a resource that families would be able to use as a tool to help during these difficult situations and to encourage them to communicate with one another.”
In each new community, Pellegrino makes it a priority to become a member of the local Spouses Group. She has served as the Air Command Staff College Spouses Club (ACSC) President, which consists of over 400 spouses located from all over the country and internationally, and on the board of the Maxwell Gunter Spouses Group as the ACSC Liaison.
“We loved setting up community events, fundraisers, game nights, fitness groups and newsletters,” she said. “My interactions with such a large group of spouses from all over the world taught me the importance of building and having an interactive military community. It is crucial for us to have a military community and to also be involved in the local community. We have created many friendships with locals that truly are interested in including us and supporting the military.”
Recently, she was nominated and selected to participate in the Defense Civilian Emerging Leaders Program (DCELP). DCELP is a highly selective competency-based leadership development program for emerging leaders that provides a comprehensive blueprint for professional development at the Lead Self and Lead Teams/Projects levels on the Department of Defense (DOD) Civilian Leadership Development model. Pellegrino will serve as representative of the United States Air Force Financial Management Field.
“I have experienced many career obstacles as a military spouse and realize how difficult it can be to maintain and grow a career. As a result, I participate on various podcasts to share my career experience and tips,” she said. “I also provide mentoring, resume editing and feedback and military spouse-friendly employment opportunities on my social media pages. I truly believe it is important for spouses to go after their dreams, and I love watching it become a reality for them.”
Along with career mentoring, Pellegrino also posts daily motivations, PCS tips, cleaning and organizing tricks, quarantine activities and book series updates in an effort to create a community where military spouses can network and interact.
“If awarded the AFI Military Spouse of the Year title, I hope to be able to grow my platform and create awareness on the importance of military community and family support. I believe it is my calling and duty to support the military community,” she said. “I pledge to be an advocate, role model and leader to get us the family, financial, educational and emotional support that we need. I will continue to keep serving my community with the utmost respect and dedication.”
Currently, the family is preparing to tackle their next endeavor—welcoming their third child in April.
Nominations for the MSOY award are accepted from both the general public and the military community and are organized according to base, district and state.
Base voting begins on Feb.7 and ends on Feb. 11. Registered users can vote once per day. The winners of this round will be announced on Feb. 17 followed by the announcement of the Top 21 on Feb. 25.
Branch voting will take place on March 1 and 2 with national voting taking place on March 10 and 11. The winner will be announced at the Armed Forces Insurance Military Spouse of the Year awards event on May 5.